Updated: The War Dead Since Sept. 21, 2011


September 24, 2011—Army Sgt. Tyler Holtz, 22, of Dana Point, Calif., a Joint Base Lewis McChord Ranger, was killed in an attack against insurgents in Wardak Province. Holtz joined the Army in 2007 after he graduated from Mater Dei High School in Santa Ana, Calif. On his fourth deployment to Afghanistan over three years, he wrote his family a letter that, he said, they should keep to reread upon his death: “I want to make myself perfectly clear about why I gave my life for this,” he wrote. “Don’t make the mistake of thinking I joined the Army out of some misguided, short-lived sense of patriotism . . . I know why I was fighting. I was fighting so that you wouldn’t have to deal with or die in another 9/11. I was fighting so that you and America would never have [to] know another war on our soil. I died happy. Maybe not peacefully, but happy, and with purpose. That’s all I could have ever asked for.”

October 8, 2011—Army Spc. Ricardo Cerros Jr., 24, a Joint Base Lewis McChord Ranger from Salinas, Calif., was mortally wounded during an attack on insurgents barricaded in a compound in Logar Province. Cerros, a member of the 2nd Battalion, 75th Ranger Regiment, joined the Army in 2010 after graduation from the University of California, Irvine, where he became the first black-belt member of the school’s tae kwon do team. Cerros had planned to join the military since he was a child, said his father, Ricardo Sr., an Army veteran, and wanted to enlist after high school, but his father and stepmother convinced him to get a college degree first. “I was hoping the war would be over by then,” his father said.

October 10, 2011—Army Staff Sgt. Nathan Wyrick, 34, of Enumclaw died from combat injuries in Kandahar province. Married and the father of four, he was a supply specialist with the 3rd Infantry Brigade, 10th Mountain Division, from Fort Drum N.Y. A 1996 Franklin Pierce High School graduate who played football and ran track, Wyrick joined the Army in 2006 after pursuing a career as an electrician. He was initially a member of a Fort Lewis unit, and is remembered for aiding Army spouses by mowing the lawns of soldiers who’d been deployed. “You know how sometimes a guy’s never good enough for your daughter?” said his father-in-law, Ron Smith of Bonney Lake. “That was never the case with Nathan. I appreciated him as an honorable man, a wonderful father, and a great son.”

October 22, 2011—Army Pfc. Christopher A. Horns, 20, a JBLM Ranger from Colorado Springs, Colo., died in Kandahar province of wounds suffered when enemy forces attacked his unit with an improvised explosive device. Horns was a rifleman assigned to the 75th Ranger Regiment at Joint Base Lewis-McCord. He was on his first deployment to Afghanistan in support of Operation Enduring Freedom. His family remembered him as an avid outdoorsman who followed his father’s footsteps into the Army—dad Larry Horns served almost 30 years, including a stint in Afghanistan at the start of the war. Her son, said Christopher’s mother Martha Horns, “never talked about girls, he never talked about cars—he talked about the Army. I’d never seen such pride as I did in his voice when he talked about serving his country.”

October 22, 2011—Army Sgt. 1st Class Kristoffer B. Domeij, 29, of San Diego, and Pfc. Christopher A. Horns, 20, of Colorado Springs, Colo., both Rangers from Joint Base Lewis McChord, were mortally wounded in Kandahar province when insurgents attacked their unit with an improvised explosive device. They were assigned to the 2nd Battalion, 75th Ranger Regiment. Domeij, whose widow and two children lived in Lacey, joined the Army in 2001 after graduating from Rancho Bernardo High School. He was deployed, amazingly, 14 times before he was killed by a roadside bomb. The Army said he enlisted two months before Sept. 11, and had been in combat ever since. He “was one of those men who was known by all as much for his humor, enthusiasm, and loyal friendship as he was for his unparalleled skill and bravery under fire,” said his commander, Lt. Col. David Hodne. Horns joined in 2010 and served as an assistant machine gunner and automatic rifleman with the Rangers. Hodne remembered him as “courageous and disciplined . . . He earned the universal respect of seniors and peers alike.”

December 21, 2011—Army Spec. Mikayla A. Bragg, 20, of Longview, was shot and killed while on duty in a guard tower in Khowst province. She was assigned to the 3rd Brigade Combat Team, 1st Infantry, stationed at Fort Knox, Ky. A 2008 Mark Morris High School graduate, Bragg was just a few days from departing from her first tour of duty and returning to the U.S. when she was killed. Her survivors include seven siblings. Bragg was remembered as “kind-hearted” by Army Chaplain Lt. Col. William Barefield, who officiated at Bragg’s services. She “always went out of her way to help others . . . a truth-teller who could call right right and wrong wrong, but without destroying the feelings of others,” he said.

January 11, 2012—Army Pfc. Neil I. Turner, 21, of Tacoma, died in a non-combat-related incident in Logar province. The incident is under investigation by the Army. Turner was assigned to the 3rd Brigade Combat Team, 1st Armored Division, from Fort Bliss, Texas. A native Minnesotan, Turner and his family moved to the Pacific Northwest when he was in the 8th grade. He was a 2008 graduate of Lincoln High School, and enlisted in 2010. He deployed on his first tour to Afghanistan last fall. “He was such a lover of people,” said Tacoma pastor Samuel Deuth, a youth minister who knew Turner for years. Turner “would go out of his way to make people feel loved,” Deuth said. “You didn’t see him much without a smile.” A friend, Tami Scheidt, who lives next door to the family, said the war experience seemed to affect that outlook. When he came home for leave, “He seemed different—he wasn’t your typical teenager anymore, he was an adult. You could see the change in him.”

January 15, 2012—Army Sgt. 1st Class Benjamin B. Wise, 34, of Puyallup, died at Landstuhl Regional Medical Center in Germany of wounds sustained in combat January 9 in Balkh province. He was an Army Ranger assigned to the 3rd Battalion, 1st Special Forces Group, Joint Base Lewis McChord. The Army said he was wounded during a small-arms attack by insurgents. His family in Arkansas said in a statement that “Ben was proud of the career he built in the Army,” remembering him as “a loving husband, a devoted father, a caring son, and a selfless soldier.” It was the family’s second war loss: Wise’s brother, Jeremy, was a former Navy SEAL killed in Afghanistan at the end of 2009 after he’d returned to work as a CIA contractor.

January 19, 2012—Marine Capt. Daniel B. Bartle, 27, from Ferndale, Whatcom County, was one of six Americans killed when a CH-53D helicopter crashed in Helmand province. The cause was being investigated, but it did not appear that the chopper had been shot down, officials said. Bartle graduated as a valedictorian from Ferndale High School in 2002. This was his second deployment to Afghanistan. Brother-in-law John Davis said Bartle was fluent in Spanish, loved to lift weights, and majored in electrical engineering. In a statement, his family said: “Men of humility and honor are rare in this world. Daniel lived these values every single day and inspired others to do the same. He was a loving son, brother, uncle, and friend, and though his death saddens us greatly, we are finding consolation in all the love, laughter, and joy that he gave to those who were fortunate enough to know him.”

January 25, 2012—Army 1st Lt. David A. Johnson, 24, of Horicon, Wis., a Joint Base Lewis-McChord Stryker member, died in Kandahar province, Afghanistan, of injuries suffered after encountering an improvised explosive device while conducting a dismounted patrol. He was assigned to JBLM’s 3rd Stryker Brigade Combat Team, 2nd Infantry Division. A devout Christian, Johnson joined the Army in 2006 and served as a chaplain’s assistant when he earned an ROTC scholarship to study at Evangel University in Springfield, Mo. He graduated with a bachelor of science degree in 2010 and then joined the 3rd Brigade for deployment. His father Andrew Johnson recalled his son saying his outpost received enemy fire on a daily basis from hidden insurgents. “He believed in what he was doing,” Johnson said. “He wasn’t afraid. He said the enemy would pop out behind rocks. He said they were pathetic. He wasn’t afraid of them.”

January 31, 2012—Marine Sgt. William C. Stacey, 23, of Seattle, died from a bomb blast while on foot patrol in Helmand province. He was assigned to the 1st Marine Division, I Marine Expeditionary Force, Camp Pendleton, Calif. He was a 2006 Roosevelt High School graduate and joined the Marines the following year; he signed up for a second four-year hitch last January. His father, Bob Stacey, a UW history professor, said, “Will believed this was the right thing to do, that it was the great challenge of his generation. He saw himself as helping to defend his country and trying to make life better for the Afghan people.” On the website fastertimes.com, writer Lawrence Dabney recalled Will Stacey’s exploits in Afghanistan: “He commanded the squad I was embedded with when I ended up in my first firefight, and it was plainer than anything that he kept the men under his command alive . . . He helped turn [the town of] Now Zad from a scarred hell to a place where hundreds of children can walk to school every day. He brought sanity and compassion to a place sorely in need of both . . . “

April 11, 2012—Marine Lance Cpl. Ramon Kaipat, 22, of Tacoma, died during combat operations in the Helmand province of Afghanistan. He was a rifleman assigned to 1st Light Armored Reconnaissance Battalion, 1st Marine Division at Camp Pendleton, Calif., and was on his second combat deployment. Kaipat, whose family moved from Saipan to Tacoma in 2004, graduated from Mount Tahoma High School in 2007 and enlisted the following year. “He looked up to the Marines,” said his cousin Courtney Taisakan, who also served in the Marines from 2006 to 2010. He said Kaipat loved listening to music and spending time with his large family in the area. “He had a serious side to him,” Taisakan said. “From a glance, you might not think he was very social. He was very open to his family and he was a comedian. Very fun-loving, but he had that man-of-the-house training from his father.”

April 11, 2012—Army Spc. Philip C. S. Schiller, 21, of The Colony, Texas, a JBLM Stryker soldier, died in Kandahar province, Afghanistan, of wounds suffered when enemy forces attacked his unit with small-arms fire. He was assigned to the base’s 3rd Stryker Brigade Combat Team, 2nd Infantry Division. Schiller grew up in Connecticut and in 2009 moved in with his sister living in The Colony, a suburb of Dallas, according to his “adopted” mother, Colleen Richmond. Schiller became best friends with Richmond’s son – they both joined their high school’s JROTC program – and “adopted” Richmond as his mother. She recalled him as “the son everyone wants.” He and her son, Joshua, 20, would play electronic guitar and video games on weekends. Schiller enlisted in 2010 and was killed just two weeks into his overseas deployment. “I lost a piece of my heart,” said Richmond.

April 30, 2012—Army Sgt. Nicholas Dickhut, 23, from Stewartville, Minn., a JBLM Stryker soldier, was killed in a firefight in southern Afghanistan’s Kandahar province. He was a forward observer for the 3rd Stryker Brigade, 2nd Infantry Division, and was on his second deployment overseas. Just a week earlier, Dickhut was shown in an image that appeared on news websites all over the country. The Reuters News Agency photo shows him lining up a shot inside a dirt-floor building after coming under Taliban fire. His friend, Spc. Connor Higgins, said “He was easily the best Forward Observer I have ever met in the U.S. Army. More importantly, he was a great friend and someone who would always help you out no matter what.” Dickhut indicated on his Facebook page that he joined the Army in September 2008 and lived in Tacoma. He studied at a community college in Rochester, Minn., but left a credit shy of earning his associate’s degree, his mother Jacqueline Carson said. “I don’t even want to think about the fact that he’s never coming home,” she said. “All the plans that he had made and all the things we talked about, it’s just never going to happen. I really thought he was going to make it. I really did.”

May 18, 2012—Army Sgt. Michael Knapp, 28, from Overland Park, Kan., and Sgt. Jabraun Knox, 23, of Auburn, Ind., both from Joint Base Lewis-McChord, died of wounds suffered when enemy forces attacked their unit with indirect fire in Asadabad, the capital of Kunar province. They were assigned to the 1st Battalion (Air Assault), 377th Field Artillery Regiment, 17th Fires Brigade, which deployed from Lewis-McChord in October. Knapp, married and the father of a baby girl, joined the service in 2003 and was on his second deployment overseas. He was just days away from returning home for a two-week leave. “Mike was a soldier through and through, and you just couldn’t ask for a guy that’s more loyal to our country and to my daughter, and then to my granddaughter,” Knapp’s father-in-law, Tom Brassfield, said. Knox, 23, also married with a child, had recently returned to Afghanistan after a 15-day leave – arriving home to surprise his wife. He played football and baseball in high school, serving as a kicker and quarterback on the football team. “He liked to kid around and joke around but, on the same token, he could be serious when it was time to be serious and be competitive and work hard in practice and games,” coach Jim Hummer said. “He was a fun person to be around and that rubbed off on his peers too.”

May 23, 2012—Army 2nd Lt. Travis Morgado, 25, from Edmonds, a JBLM Stryker team member, died from wounds received in a bomb attack while on patrol in the Zharay District of southern Afghanistan. He was a member of the 3rd Stryker Brigade Combat Team, 2nd Infantry division. Morgado joined the Army in November 2010, and was commissioned as a second lieutenant in May last year. A graduate of the University of Washington, where he earned a civil engineering degree, he wasn’t ready for an office job, his family recalled. “He just felt so fortunate, he felt, why was he so lucky?”, his mother, Andrea Velasquez Kessler, said. “We told him to join the Peace Corps. But he wanted to enlist.” Though born in the Bay Area, he lived mostly in Edmonds with his mother, two brothers, and three step-siblings, spending summers in San Jose with his dad. “He was just awesome,” said his mom. “He was just so nice. He just always felt that he wanted to give back.”

May 24, 2012—Army Pfc. Cale C. Miller, 23, a Joint Base Lewis-McChord soldier from Overland Park, Kan., died in Kandahar province of injuries sustained when insurgents bombed his Stryker vehicle. He was assigned to the  2nd Stryker Brigade Combat Team, 2nd Infantry Division, at JBLM. A native of Olathe, Kan., Miller  graduated in 2007 from Olathe Northwest High School, where he played on the football and track and field teams. He also played trumpet in the marching and jazz bands. His brother-in-law Frank Barden said Miller “loved music, Ford Mustangs, and pug dogs, and excelled at everything he did.” Added his mother, Deborah Collins, “Although we are devastated by our loss, we find comfort knowing that Cale died doing exactly what he wanted to do.” Hundreds lined the streets in his Kansas hometown as his body was escorted from the airport to the local mortuary. “He sacrificed so much to go to Afghanistan for our freedom,” said resident Betsy Adams. “I’m thinking about his parents today and how hopefully it will be of some comfort for them to know how many people care about their son.”

May 26, 2012—Army Spc. Vilmar Galarza Hernandez, 21, a Stryker soldier from Salinas, Calif., died in Kandahar Province when enemy forces attacked his vehicle with an improvised explosive device. He was assigned to the 2nd Stryker Brigade Combat Team, 2nd Infantry Division, at Joint Base Lewis-McChord. Galarza was born in Arizona but moved with his family to California when he was 5 so his parents could work in the farm fields. He graduated from Everett Alvarez High School in Salinas in 2008. His family had wanted him to go to college after graduation, and he already had acceptance letters in hand. But he opted to enlist, and insisted on being where the fighting was. “He specifically wanted infantry,” said his sister, Rubi Galarza. “That’s just the kind of person he was. We couldn’t talk him out of it.” Galarza had just begun his second tour in Afghanistan, and had gotten married only two months before he was killed.

May 30, 2012—Navy Master-at-Arms 2nd Class Sean E. Brazas, 26, a Bremerton sailor from Greensboro, N.C., died while conducting combat operations in Panjwai, located in Kandahar province. Brazas was assigned to Naval Base Kitsap Security Detachment in Bremerton, and was a K-9 handler. He arrived in Afghanistan on May 1, his birthday, and was shot while trying to help a service member get into a helicopter, his family reports. Brazas graduated from Western Guilford High School and briefly took classes at a local community college. “He sat around one day and said ‘I want to do more with my life than party and drink on the weekends, so I’ll join the Navy,’ ” his father Ed Brazas recalled. He was stationed in Crete and then Guam for three years. His son always loved dogs and began working with bomb-sniffing military animals, the father said, recalling that his son told him once, “If something happens to me, just remember I want to make things safe for you and Mom and Kelly,” Sean’s sister. “I’m proud of him,” Ed Brazas said. “Freedom is not cheap. We pay for it with the dearest blood.” Brazas was buried in Arlington National Cemetery with his grandfather, a World War II veteran, and is survived by his widow and an infant daughter.

May 31, 2012—Army Staff Sgt. Alexander Povilaitis, 47, of Dawsonville, Ga., a Joint Base Lewis-McChord engineer, was killed in Kandahar province when an improvised explosive blew up near his vehicle. He was assigned to the 14th Engineer Battalion, 555th Engineer Brigade, stationed at JBLM. He first served in the Army from 1984-87 as a radio operator. After a 20-year break, he rejoined the service as a reservist in March 2008 and returned to active-duty in September of that year. This was his first deployment to Afghanistan, though he served in Iraq from November 2009 to July 2010 with a unit out of White Sands, N.M. Povilaitis was nearing the end of this deployment when he was killed. His family said he loved to ride motorcycles, hunt, and fish. As a youth, Povilaitis played football and wrestled for Cross Keys High School in Atlanta, where he has an ex-wife and two sons. He later remarried and had four more children. “Alex was good man, and a good father,” his ex-wife Kim Povilaitis said.

June 2, 2012—Army Spc. Gerardo Campos, 23, a Stryker soldier from Miami, Fla., died in Kandahar province when enemy forces attacked his unit with small-arms fire. He was assigned to the 2nd Stryker Brigade Combat Team, 2nd Infantry Division, at Joint Base Lewis-McChord. Campos grew up in Homestead, Fla., one of five children.  “He was just a good man, honest man . . . brave man,” said his sister, Erica Campos. Added brother Eduardo, “He was everything you can think of – superhero, friend, father, best brother.”  A fellow soldier, 1st Sgt. John Knight, called Campos “the wind beneath the wings of his platoon,” one of its toughest soldiers. “He motivated his fellow soldiers and believed in their ability to rise to the occasion, regularly pushing them beyond their limits.” He was married and had an infant daughter, the family said, recalling he’d directed his last words to the child in a message before he was killed: “Love you, Bella. Your dad will always be with you.”

June 6, 2012—Army lst Lt. Mathew G. Fazzari, 25, of Walla Walla,  died from wounds suffered during a helicopter crash in Ghazni province. Also killed was Capt. Scott Pace, 33, of California. They were assigned to the 82nd Combat Aviation Brigade, 82nd Airborne Division, based at Fort Bragg, N.C.  Bazzari, who was married and had two children, was  a 2005 graduate of DeSales Catholic High School in Walla Walla and a 2010 graduate of Gonzaga University in Spokane. A school ROTC leader, Lt. Col. Gregory Jacobsen,  recalled that Fazzari “did not eagerly seek the spotlight, but he was always willing to jump up and lead.” Fazzari’s training instructor, Chief Warrant Officer Tim Lane, added that “I can honestly say he was one of my best and brightest students. Our community lost a great up-and-coming leader.”

June 12, 2012—Army Sgt. 1st Class Barett W. McNabb, 33, a Joint Base Lewis-McChord engineer from Chino Valley, Ariz., died in Kandahar province from a roadside bomb attack. He was assigned to the 562nd Engineer Company, 2nd Infantry Division, at JBLM, and was on his fourth overseas deployment. Born in Colorado, McNabb attended and played football at Chino Valley High, later earning a GED in Denham Springs, La. He enlisted in 1999 and planned to make the army his career. A friend, Kris Mazy, recalled McNabb as “a super-nice guy,” and one of his commanders, 1st Lt. Robert Gold, cited him as “an inspirational and highly motivated leader who always put the needs of his Sappers [engineer soldiers] before his own.” His platoon leader, Lt. Simrattal Singh, remembered McNabb as a creative thinker–such as the time he tried to figure out how to get a bomb-disposal robot into his vehicle to better mobilize the disarming of explosives. “It was that same sharp mind that made him a tremendous asset in my platoon,”  Singh said. McNabb was married and the father of a son and two stepdaughters.

June 12, 2012—Army Spc. Trevor A. Pinnick,  20, a Stryker soldier from Lawrenceville, Ill., died in Panjway of wounds caused by an improvised explosive device. He was assigned to the 3rd Stryker Brigade Combat Team, 2nd Infantry Division, at Joint Base Lewis-McChord. A 2010 graduate of Lawrenceville High, Pinnick was warmly remembered as a big-hearted kid. “He was a jokester,” said cousin Pam Brunson. “He always had you laughing and playing practical jokes on you.” He had talked about making a career in the Army and accepted the risks, she said. “He volunteered to go to Afghanistan,” said Brunson. “He said it was what he signed up for and what he was going to do.” Added another cousin, Mitzie Mallott, “You’d never imagine that something like that would happen to Trevor. He was just so full of life. You never thought that would be over.”

June 14, 2012—Army Sgt. Joseph Lilly, 25, a Stryker engineer from  Flint, Mich., died two days after he was caught in the blast that killed Trevor Pinnick. He too was deployed to southern Afghanistan with the 3rd Brigade, 2nd Infantry Division, and died from the injuries he sustained after the two soldiers stepped on a buried bomb. Lilly graduated from Carman Ainsworth High School in 2005 and joined the Army shortly thereafter. He was a combat engineer, trained to go ahead of other troops and look for explosives. “Today is one of the saddest days of my life,” Lilly’s wife wrote on Facebook. “Joe has passed away. Please keep my family in your prayers. He was a wonderful husband, father, son, and brother. We will love and miss him dearly.” Lilly’s work as an engineer was portrayed in an official Defense Department photograph taken in February. In it, he’s at the controls of a remotely operated weapon system while doing route clearance aboard a 37-ton mine-resistant vehicle called a Buffalo. Besides his widow, Lilly leaves behind a young son.

June 18, 2012—Army Pfc. Jarrod A. Lallier, 20, of Spokane, was killed in Zharay, Kandahar province, when enemy forces attacked his unit with small-arms fire and grenades. He was assigned to the 508th Parachute Infantry Regiment, 4th Brigade Combat Team, 82nd Airborne Division, at Fort Bragg, N.C. The Department of Defense said he was killed by enemy dressed in Afghan police uniforms. A graduate of Mead High School, Lallier had long wanted to serve his country, his family recalled. “He said that since he was a little boy,” said his mother, Kim Lallier. “I always tried talking him out of it. As he grew up, we knew it was even a stronger conviction.” She remembered him as a kid who loved soccer, his friends, fishing, camping, and animals. “Most of all, he was just a people person,” she said. “He’d make a ton of friends no matter where he went. He was just a very likable person, easygoing. He made friends really easy.” Capt. Michael Kelvington, commander of the 508th Parachute Infantry Regiment, called Lallier a “quiet professional. He impressed people with his deeds, not words.” Said his mother: “He’s a hero to us, but we’ll miss him forever.”

June 19, 2012—Army Sgt. Jose Rodriguez, 22, a Stryker soldier from Gustine, Calif., died in Kandahar province of wounds sustained when he was attacked by enemy small-arms fire. He was assigned to the 2nd Stryker Brigade Combat Team, 2nd Infantry Division, at Joint Base Lewis-McChord. A 2008 Gustine High School graduate, Rodriguez joined the Army that year. When he was getting ready to leave for Georgia to attend boot camp, his family recalled, they went to buy a bag for his clothes. “He came out with a Spiderman backpack,” his mother Margarita Rodriguez said. “I thought he was going to give it to my little grandson before leaving, but he said, ‘No, it’s for my clothes.’ ” Sgt. Rodriguez was supposed to have completed his military service in December 2011, but decided to extend his stay with the Army to better provide for his family, his widow Lupita said. The couple, who married in 2010, had a son last year. She recalled telling her husband that he was going to miss the boy’s 1st birthday. “He said, ‘It doesn’t matter, I will be here for all his other [birthdays],’ ” she said.

July 4, 2012—Army Staff Sgt. Raul Guerra, 37, of Union City, New Jersey, a Lewis-McChord intelligence officer, died on the Fourth of July in Kandahar’s Spin Boldak district, in the far south of Afghanistan along the border with Pakistan. The cause of his death was under investigation, the Army I Corps said. Guerra served in Joint Base Lewis-McChord’s 502nd Military Intelligence Battalion, 201st Battlefield Surveillance Brigade. He enlisted in 1999 and initially trained as a mechanic. He deployed to Afghanistan three times between 2002 and 2006, and in 2007 became a human-intelligence collector. He deployed to Iraq from October 2007 to December 2008 with his unit from Fort Stewart, Ga. Guerra was assigned to Lewis-McChord in July 2011. He deployed with the surveillance brigade in May, a unit assigned to gathering and analyzing information to guide battle commanders. Little was released about his personal life. Guerra was remembered by Army Lt. Col. Gary Dangerfield as “a courageous and passionate warrior,” dedicated to the fight.

July 7, 2012—Army Cpl. Juan Navarro, 23, a JBLM Stryker solider from Austin, Texas, was killed by an enemy bomb in Kandahar, Afghanistan. Navarro was assigned to the 3rd Brigade, 2nd Infantry Division at Joint Base Lewis-McChord and deployed in March. Navarro was a 2007 graduate of Lanier High School, and joined the Army in June 2008. His family said his smile could light up a room, and remembered him for his humor and  big dreams. “He was looking forward to returning to school after he’d completed his time in the service,” said his godfather, Charlie Spears. In one of his final Facebook posts, Navarro confirmed he was planning to attend college after his deployment, likely next spring. “College here I come,” he wrote. in late June. And the day before he died, he wrote from his post in Afghanistan: “God loves me enough to let me go through all the lessons I came here to learn, even the ones that hurt the most.”

July 11, 2012—Army Spec. Sterling Wyatt, 21, a Stryker from Columbia, Mo., was killed in a blast of a roadside bomb after training Afghan security forces on how to avoid such hazards. His vehicle had been attacked by the enemy, using an improvised explosive device, in Kandahar Province, Afghanistan. Wyatt was assigned to the  3rd Stryker Brigade Combat Team, 2nd Infantry Division, at Joint Base Lewis-McChord.  He was an exchange student in junior high and later became an Eagle Scout; he graduated in 2009 from Rock Bridge High School and completed the Certified Nurse Attendant certification at Columbia Career Center his senior year. He joined the service in 2010. His commander, Capt. John Meyers, said Wyatt was one of the unit’s top trainers: “He made sure the training was the best the Afghan police had ever seen.” He also served as a gun team leader, a job often done by more senior enlisted soldiers, the captain said. Wyatt had a thirst for historical military battles, he added, and had made a return journey to Japan – where he’d been an exchange student as a teen.

July 14, 2012—Army Sgt. Michael Ristau, 27, of Rockford, Illinois died of wounds sustained when his vehicle was attacked with an enemy improvised explosive device in Zabul Province, Afghanistan. Ristau was assigned to the 3rd Stryker Brigade Combat Team, 2nd Infantry Division, at Joint Base Lewis-McChord. A native of Cascade, Iowa, Ristau graduated from Lincoln’s Challenge Academy in Waveland, Mississippi, in 2004 and enlisted in the Army about a month later. He was married and had two sons, one born in Tacoma  just days before he deployed to Afghanistan in late 2011. His family remembered him as an avid rodeo competitor and he  was often in “cowboy mode” during his off duty hours, competing in local rodeos. “He was remarkable in staring down any obstacle that made the mistake of getting between him and where he wanted to go,” said Lt. Col. Jim Dunivan, commander of the squadron Ristau served in.

July 26, 2012—Army Sgt. John E. Hansen, 41, a Stryker leader from Austin, Texas, died in Khakrez, Afghanistan, of wounds caused by an improvised explosive device. He was killed along with a Stryker officer, 1st Lt. Sean  Jacobs (see next obituary). Hansen was assigned to the 2nd Stryker Brigade Combat Team, 2nd Infantry Division, at Joint Base Lewis-McChord. Married with four children, Hansen was an artillery data systems specialist, and joined the Air Force in October 1999. He went on to transfer to service in the Army seven years later. During his duty tours, he completed assignments in New Mexico, Colorado, and North Carolina before reporting to Lewis-McChord in December 2011. His tour in Afghanistan was his second combat deployment.

July 26, 2012—Army 1st Lt. Sean R. Jacobs,  23, a Stryker officer from Redding, Calif., died in Khakrez, Afghanistan, of wounds caused by an improvised explosive device. He was killed with fellow Stryker leader Sgt. John Hansen (see above). He was assigned to the 2nd Stryker Brigade Combat Team, 2nd Infantry Division, at Joint Base Lewis-McChord. Born in Lake Havasu City, Ariz., Jacobs moved to Redding with his family in 2001 and attended Mountain View Middle School, graduating from Foothill High School in 2006, where he ran track and cross-country. He was nominated in 2006  to attend the U.S. Military Academy at West Point, where he graduated in May 2010. His grandfather, Peter Jacobs, said Sean was an “all-American boy . . . a winner all the way, and he had a great future.”

August 16, 2012—Army Pfc. Michael R. Demarsico, II, 20, a Stryker from North Adams, Mass., died near Panjwa’i, Afghanistan, of wounds sustained when he encountered an enemy improvised explosive device. He was a member of the 3rd Stryker Brigade Combat Team, 2nd Infantry Division at Joint Base Lewis-McChord. He grew up in Massachusetts, joining the Army in February 2011. He was on his first deployment. Demarsico’s platoon sergeant jokingly remembered him as a “mine hound” because of his sharp eye spotting the enemy’s buried bombs. He often volunteered to lead foot patrols, and kept his eyes on the ground as he hauled around mine-detecting equipment with his platoon behind him. He’d actually gone to the aid of others when he died–protecting his fellow soldiers from a hidden mine they had missed on past patrols. He “wanted to lead and clear a path for the platoon to ensure their safety even if it meant compromising his own,” said Staff Sgt. Mabon Briola. Demarsico was trying to defuse a bomb when he tripped a secondary device, the Army said.

August 16, 2012—Navy Petty Officer 1st Class Sean Carson, 32,  a veteran explosive ordnance disposal technician from Des Moines, King County, was among seven American service members killed in a helicopter crash in Afghanistan’s Kandahar Province. Carson died with two Navy SEALs, four Hawaii-based Army aviators, and four Afghan service members in a Black Hawk helicopter. They were killed in a battle in a northern district of Kandahar Province, the Taliban’s heartland. After attending Highline High, Carson joined the Navy in 1999 and later began working on some of the most elite military bomb-disposal teams. Married with a child, he excelled at his work, said Senior Chief Petty Officer John Groat, earning assignments to a special-operations platoon and missions with Navy SEALs. “You don’t get on that platoon unless you’re one of our top operators,” Groat said. “You have to be very sharp, very good with your hands, and very athletic.” Said his father Pat Carson: “If you met the guy on the street, you would say he’s shy, reserved, unpretentious. In his military element, he was definitely the leader.”

August 18, 2012—Army Sgt. David V. Williams, 24, a Stryker leader from Frederick, Md., died near Kandahar, Afghanistan, while supporting Operation Enduring Freedom. The cause of death was under investigation. He was assigned to the 2nd Stryker Brigade Combat Team, 2nd Infantry Division, at Joint Base Lewis-McChord. A 2006 graduate of Urbana High School, Williams joined the Army in 2008. In a statement, his family said  Williams “was a caring, giving soul, who loved his family, the Army, and his country. He was serving his first deployment and looking forward to marrying a wonderful young woman upon his return. Words cannot express the grief that David’s sister, fiancé, and I are feeling. We sincerely appreciate all of our many friends who have reached out to express their condolences and offers to help.”

August 22, 2012—Army Sgt. Louis R. Torres, 23, a Stryker from Oberlin, Ohio, died  in San Antonio, Texas, of wounds suffered when he encountered an enemy improvised explosive device August 6, in Kandahar, Afghanistan. He was assigned to the 3rd Stryker Brigade Combat Team, 2nd Infantry Division, at Joint Base Lewis-McChord. Torres grew up in Ohio and graduated from Lorain County Joint Vocation School in Oberlin, where he played football and took classes in law enforcement and security. He joined the Army in June 2008, assigned to JBLM. He was sent to Afghanistan with his brigade in December 2011, his second deployment following an earlier tour in Iraq. Lt. Col. John Highfill said Torres approached life as a “series of dedicated challenges,” becoming an exceptional soldier by learning all he could about his job.” Younger soldiers appreciated Torres’ laugh-out-loud humor and his ability to lead by example, he added. Said Torres’ mother Amanda Ellis: “He was a leader, not a follower. He was very kind-hearted and a great son. He was always thinking of me. He made sure that I was on Facebook so he could tell me Happy Mother’s Day and Valentine’s Day.”

September 16, 2012—Army Sgt. Sapuro B. Nena, 25, a resident of the Federated States of Micronesia in the state of Kosrae, was one of three Joint Base Lewis-McChord soldiers killed at a American-Afghan checkpoint in the rural Mizan District of Zabul Province. All were members of the 3rd Brigade, 2nd Infantry Division. Nena, from the brigade’s 2nd Battalion, 3rd Infantry Regiment, was married. He joined the Army in May 2008, two years after graduating from Kaimuki High School, and served as an armor crewman, first deploying to Iraq in 2009-10. He arrived at Lewis-McChord in August 2010 and deployed to Afghanistan in December. Friends and family recall Nena as someone who was always smiling, laughing, and singing. “He had the voice of an angel,” said friend Egbert Keil. “I swear he can sing Samoan songs better than I can, even though he is not Samoan.”

September 16, 2012—Army Pfc. Genaro Bedoy, 20, of Amarillo, Texas, was the second of the three Joint Base Lewis-McChord soldiers killed at a American-Afghan checkpoint in the rural Mizan District of Zabul Province. A member of the brigade’s 52nd Infantry Regiment, Bedoy , a 2010 graduate of from River Road High School, joined the Army that year and arrived at Lewis-McChord the following March. Married with a child, “He died as a hero,” his cousin, David Gonzalez, said. “We’re all going to miss him.” Added his buddy Garrett Dorman, “He was one of the best guys you could ever meet . . . a great friend.”

September 16, 2012—Army Pfc. Jon R. Townsend, 19, of Claremore, Okla., was the third of three Joint Base Lewis-McChord soldiers killed at a American-Afghan checkpoint in the rural Mizan District of Zabul Province. He was a member of the brigade’s 1st Battalion, 23rd Infantry Regiment.  Married, Townsend left Claremore for basic training shortly after he graduated from Sequoyah High School in May 2011, arriving at Lewis-McChord last October. His high-school principal, Steve Johnson, said Townsend was determined to join the Army. “Jon made up his mind that he was going to go to the service, so he spent all year getting ready. He really believed in the cause and wanted to be a soldier.” Added Brig. Gen. Don Farris, deputy commanding general of operations for the 7th Infantry Division, “Jon never wavered in his duty. He never quit when it got hard.”

September 26, 2012—Army Staff Sgt. Orion N. Sparks, 29, who was raised in Gig Harbor, died in Puli Alam, Afghanistan, of injuries caused by a suicide bomber. Also killed was Army Sgt. Jonathan A. Gollnitz, 28, of Lakehurst, N.J. Sparks, who more recently lived in Tucson, Ariz., was assigned to the 173rd Airborne Brigade Combat Team, in Schweinfurt, Germany. Born in Tacoma, he attended schools in Purdy and Gig Harbor, and graduated from Peninsula High where he ran track, wrestled, and played football. “Orion, from a young child, was somebody who wanted to go out and have an adventure. He just couldn’t wait to get up and go,” said his mother, Jan Hurnblad Sparks. “He wasn’t ready for college and just wanted to get out. He tried a few jobs that are available, and they didn’t really give him much adventure. He checked into the Army and he liked what he saw.” Sparks “touched the lives of many soldiers,” said Lt. Col. Whit Wright. “He is remembered as a contagious optimist who was always in good spirits. Someone that could relate to soldiers on a personal level and helped guide them through life.” Added Sparks’ mother: “He turned into a man that was loved and for 29 years that he lived, he lived a good life.”

October 12, 2012—Army Ranger Thomas R. MacPherson, 26, of Long Beach, Calif., who was on his fourth deployment to Afghanistan, was killed in a heavy firefight with enemy forces while leading an assault against an enemy position in Ghazni Province. He was assigned to Company D, 2nd Battalion, 75th Ranger Regiment, at Joint Base Lewis-McChord. A Long Beach native, MacPherson  graduated from Los Alamitos High School and enlisted in May 2007.  He was assigned to JBLM’s 75th Ranger Regiment and served as a mortarman, then later as a fire-team leader. McPherson, said Lt. Col. Gregory Anderson, “never backed away from the dangers of combat, and his warrior spirit, personal example, and zeal for life continue to inspire all who knew him.” His widow fondly remembered him as a sunglasses-and-shorts Californian, a new dad who loved movies, guns, Seinfeld, and the beach–recalling that when he attended his sister’s wedding in June, “He kept his Ray-Bans on,” said Claudia MacPherson. “It’s nice to have that memory of him . . . it being our wedding anniversary, too,” she added. “It’s nice to know that his extended family, their last memory of Tommy was him walking his mom and grandmother down the aisle.”

October 13, 2012—Army Sgt. Robert J. Billings, 30, a Stryker from Clarksville, Va., died  in Spin Boldak, Afghanistan of wounds suffered when enemy forces attacked his unit with an improvised explosive device. He was assigned to the 3rd Stryker Brigade Combat Team, 2nd Infantry Division, at Joint Base Lewis-McChord. Married with four children, he graduated in 2001 from Morley Stanwood High School in Deerfield Township, Mich. Former teacher Tim Paczewski said Billings left an impression during his time at Morley Stanwood: He showed “a lot of determination. He was very goal-oriented when he was a student here, very likable, always had a smile on his face, got along very well with his classmates as well as staff,” Paczewski said. He joined the Army in January 2006 and arrived at Joint Base Lewis-McChord in June 2009. He first deployed with 4th Stryker Brigade to Iraq from September 2009–August 2010, then to Afghanistan in December 2011. His grandmother, Elaine Billings, said “He was going to make this his last tour so he could be with his children and watch them grow up. They were just all over him when he’d come home.”

October 13, 2012—Army Spc. Brittany B. Gordon, 24, of St. Petersburg, Fla., a JBLM Stryker solider, died in Kandahar, Afghanistan, of wounds suffered when attacked by a suicide bomber. She was assigned to the 572nd Military Intelligence Company, 2nd Stryker Brigade Combat Team, 2nd Infantry Division, at Joint Base Lewis-McChord. The attacker wore a suicide vest beneath his intelligence service uniform, which he detonated shortly after a visiting delegation arrived at Gordon’s position, officials said. Also killed were a former U.S. military officer, the deputy intelligence director for Kandahar providence, two of his bodyguards, and another Afghan intelligence employee. Gordon, a graduate of St. Petersburg High in 2006, was on her first deployment. She joined the the Army in January 2010 and was sent to Afghanistan in April 2012. She was the daughter of St. Petersburg assistant police chief Cedric Gordon. Officials said she was the first female soldier from the Tampa Bay area killed in the conflicts in Iraq and Afghanistan. “I know that Chief Gordon was extremely proud of Brittany and all that she accomplished in her life,” Police Chief Chuck Harmon said in a statement. “Her life of service and especially service to her country stand as a testament to the type of person she was.”

November 5, 2012—Army Pfc. Brandon L. Buttry, 19, a JBLM Stryker soldier from Shenandoah, Iowa, died in Kandahar province.  He was killed while on guard duty atop a watchtower; the Army gave no additional details. Buttry was assigned to the 3rd Stryker Brigade Combat Team, 2nd Infantry Division, at Joint Base Lewis-McChord. He came from an extra-large family—13 brothers and sisters, most adopted—and was remembered as the son who looked out for the others. He was homeschooled, and completed his GED before enlisting in the U.S. Army in 2011. His family says his childhood dream was to be a U.S. soldier. Brigadier General Billy Don Farris recalled that Buttry “was always curious, always wanted to be a great soldier—always asking what he needed to do to be the very best at soldiering, and that really stood out.” During Buttry’s funeral, his uncle, Steve Buttry, read remarks from the soldier’s parents, Don and Pam: “You made our lives so much more full. Brandon, you were proud, you were strong, you are safe.”

November 10, 2012—Army Staff Sgt. Kenneth W. Bennett, 26, of Glendora, Calif., a JBLM ordnance sergeant, died in Sperwan Gar from injuries sustained from an improvised explosive device during combat operations. He was assigned to the 53rd Ordnance Company, 3rd Ordnance Battalion, at Joint Base Lewis-McChord. A 2004 graduate of Glendora High, Bennett became an explosives expert after joining the Army. He made the “lonely walk,” as it’s called, to defuse explosives countless times during his three deployments to the Middle East dating back to 2007, said his sister, Rene Bennett. His widow Mandi, who is expecting their second child, recalled that she’d recently told her husband about the forthcoming birth while they were dining out, and “he stood up on the table and shouted, at the restaurant.” Bennett was buried at Arlington National Cemetery.

November 12, 2012—Army Sgt. Matthew H. Stiltz, 26, of Spokane, died from wounds suffered when insurgents attacked his unit with indirect fire during a battle in Zerok. He was assigned to the 4th Brigade Combat Team, 1st Infantry Division, from Fort Riley, Kan. At Shadle Park High School, Stiltz was a leader and adviser for student marketing association DECA, but looked to the Army for the future. He joined up just two weeks after completing school in 2005, and Stiltz’s family remembers him as smart, funny, and stubborn, but foremost a soldier. Stiltz, who was married, “loved being a soldier—loved it. I think he probably would have been in until he was old and gray,” recalled his sister, Kristin Stiltz. “I think he definitely found himself in the service.”

November 13, 2012—Army Staff Sgt. Rayvon Battle Jr., 25, a JBLM Stryker sergeant from Rocky Mount, N.C., died in Kandahar province. The Army said he was killed in a heroic but failed effort to stop an explosion. Battle was assigned to the 38th Engineer Company, 4th Stryker Brigade Combat Team, 2nd Infantry Division, attached to the 7th Infantry Division at Joint Base Lewis-McChord. Battle graduated from Northern Nash High School in 2005 and joined the Army, he told relatives, “to become a man.” Known to family members as “Junior,” Battle—who was married and had one child—was  “a tremendous leader with an intrinsic ability to perform magnanimously under pressure,” said one of his team leaders, lst. Lt. Marcus Forrester. Dora Harris, the grandmother who raised Battle, remembered him as both a boy and a soldier, who “was a hero at whatever he did.”

December 10, 2012—Army Staff Sgt. Wesley R. Williams, 25, a Stryker from New Carlisle, Ohio, died  in Kandahar of wounds suffered when enemy forces attacked his unit with an improvised explosive device. He was assigned to the 4th Stryker Brigade Combat Team, 2nd Infantry Division, under control of the 7th Infantry Division, at Joint Base Lewis-McChord. Williams, while attending Tecumseh High School in New Carlisle, was a member of the school’s ROTC program, where he also met his future wife, Krista. A 2005 graduate, Williams joined the Army that year. He had one child, and one on the way, when he died. During his Army career, he served two tours in Iraq, and was on his first deployment to Afghanistan, where he was a squad leader. Widow Krista recalled having recently sent him his first care package of that deployment, which included his beloved PayDay candy bars and energy drinks. “I think we only spent one anniversary together,” she said. “It goes with the territory.”

December 13, 2012—Army Staff Sgt. Nicholas Reid, 26, a JBLM sergeant from  Rochester, N.Y., died in a Landstuhl, Germany, military hospital from wounds suffered December 9 when he was struck by elements of an improvised explosive device. He served with Joint Base Lewis-McChord’s 53rd Ordnance Company, 3rd Ordnance Battalion, and was on his second deployment to Afghanistan. A 2004 Brockport High School graduate, Reid joined the service in 2006. Gov. Andrew Cuomo directed flags on state government buildings to be flown at half-staff to “remember his sacrifice and his dedication to our nation.” 

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